The Gift of Encouragement
George Adams, an American historian observed, "Note how good you feel after you have encouraged someone else. No other argument is necessary to suggest that you should never miss the opportunity to give encouragement."
Solomon said this of encouragement, Proverbs 12:25 NLT "Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up." And Proverbs 25:11 NLT "Timely advice is as lovely as golden apples in a silver basket."
Is the only function of the gift of encouragement to make people feel better? Or is there something more to it than that?
Barnabas was an encourager. His name means "son of encouragement." By studying his behavior, we can learn more about what it means to have the spiritual gift of encouragement.
Acts 11:22-24 NLT When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw this proof of God's favor, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And large numbers of people were brought to the Lord.
Elizabeth Harrison said, "Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize." The encourager is one who lifts the church upward, not pulls it down with a critical spirit.
Have you every watched geese in formation? They always fly in a "V" formation because the forward geese create an "uplift" for those that follow. This formation creates a 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. In the church, we find we can do things quicker and easier when we work together.
Have you wondered why they "honk" as they fly? The goose on the point puts out the greatest amount effort and grows tired more easily. The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. The honking is not to criticize or to chastize, but is to say, "We're behind you all the way, keep it up."
That is the spirit of Hebrews 12:1 KJV "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," Some encouragers continue in their calling even after they've gone to be with the Lord.
The honking is the sound coming from the stands as the sprinter nears the finish line. The encourager is always passing out "atta boys" to other believers--encouraging them to excel in their ministries.
The encourager often plants himself against the current of public opinion, withstanding criticism, to defend what is right.
Acts 9:26-28 NLT When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus. Barnabas also told them what the Lord had said to Saul and how he boldly preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 Then the apostles accepted Saul, and after that he was constantly with them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
As an encourager, Barnabas did not allow superstitionand fear to prevail, instead he instilled courage in others that they could stand with the truth.
Another time, Paul and Barnabas encountered false teachers who tried to lead new converts astray. They disagreed with the teachers, then reported the false doctrine to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.
Acts 15:1-2 NLT While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the Christians: "Unless you keep the ancient Jewish custom of circumcision taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." 2Paul and Barnabas, disagreeing with them, argued forcefully and at length. Finally, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.
Acts 15:4 NLT When they arrived in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported on what God had been doing through their ministry.
Paul and Barnabas also testified to the working of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles.
Acts 15:12 NLT There was no further discussion, and everyone listened as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.
The apostles and elders agreed with Paul and Barnabas, not allowing the Judiazers to get a strong hold in the church.
Acts 15:19 NLT And so my judgment is that we should stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, The writer of Hebrews exhorts the reader to warn those who are deceived by sin, Hebrews 3:13 NLT You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called "today," so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.
It is true that Barnabas discerned when something was going the right way and applauded it, but it is also true that he discerned when something was going the wrong way and corrected it. The difference between criticism and encouragement is that the encourager doesn't just point out what is wrong, she also gives suggestions for correction and improvement.
Back to our original question, "Is the only function of the gift of encouragement to make people feel better? Or is there something more to it than that?" The meaning of the Greek and Hebrew word for encouragement could shed some light on our question.
The Greek word for encouragement is paraklesis, (par-ak'-lay-sis) meaning to come along side and offer comfort or exhortations. That seems to be in line with Barnabas' ministry, he was either exhorting or comforting. But there's more. I want to reword our question, "does it take courage to encourage?" Encouragement, in its common usage, has the backbone of a wet wash cloth. Yet the Hebrew word chazaq, (khaw-zak') carries with it the meaning to bind, restrain, conquer, behave valiantly, withstand--it is a word dripping with spiritual testosterone.
Is encouragement a meek, kind word, or is a spiritual gift God reserves for the brave hearted in tough circumstances?
Certainly, it took no courage to pat the Christians in Antioch on the back and it took very little courage to remind the apostles of the true gospel in the face of the Judazier counterfeit. But what Barnabas is about to do took raw spiritual courage.
Barnabas was willing to fight with one he once defended to save one under attack. With great courage, those with the gift of encouragement protect the weak from the strong.
Paul was disappointed in young John Mark's behavior that he was unwilling to allow him to tag along with them as they visited churches they had planted.
Acts 15:36-40 NLT After some time Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's return to each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are getting along." 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not shared in their work. 39Their disagreement over this was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and the believers sent them off, entrusting them to the Lord's grace.
Though the conflict caused the two men to separate, Paul later admitted he was wrong. 2 Tim. 4:11 NLT Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me.
Do you have the gift of encouragement? Do you have God's blessing upon you to applaud, correct, and protect? If so, use your gift to the Glory of God.